In a better time, the five exhibition halls of the BMO Centre could have been filled with thousands of people. They were bleary-eyed from the previous night and wondered how they would clear their heads in time for happy hour. The center of the Pandemic has been the dead silence.

You can hear unexpected activity when you listen carefully. Construction is under way on a $390 million expansion that will double the size of the centre. The head of the convention center team at Populous is here today. He says that you kind of have to take a deep breath. It is happening. The designer looked up at the steel skeleton rising beside the existing building and described what the expanded center will look like when it opens in 2024.

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A rendering of the redesign for the BMO Centre in Calgary shows an enormous lobby fireplace.

On the ground level in front of us, conventioneers will find a cowboy couture shop with gear for the annual Stampede festival. The spirit of the West is evoked by the images of delegates warming themselves and exchanging business cards next to a fireplace. A 50,000- square-foot ballroom is what Populous describes as the center's "crown jewel", and it will be located on the third level.

The vision assumes that the convention center trade is going to recover quickly. It is not certain that the proposition will be fulfilled. The industries that have been hardest hit by the Pandemic are the ones that make things. 35 million people attended trade shows in the US in 2019. After cities and states banned large gatherings and turned convention centers into homeless shelters, the number plummeted to 7 million. Layoffs were common at trade associations and professional societies, which make a lot of their revenue from filling convention with paying members and high-spending exhibits. The difference was not made up by virtual events. Mark Tester is the executive director of the Orange County Convention Center in Florida. Everyone was put on hold and major upgrades were canceled as a result of the swine flu.

Venues are tracked by Knowland.

The head count could be as high as 36 million next year due to the reopening of many convention centers. Some people are less optimistic about when large-scale gatherings will come back to life. The chief product officer at Knowland has been to an event where 500 people are present. The event has 20,000 people. I am going to think about that for a while. I wear a mask on the plane.

In many cases, convention centers have added pragmatic touches such as hospital-grade air filters, outdoor terraces, and rooftop ballrooms, despite the fact that they have expanded during the Pandemic. A farm was planted on the roof of the convention center. Pumpkins, peas, and beans are behind them. Alan Steel is the center's chief executive officer.

The man is trying to get in on the action Populous was the top convention center designer in the US in 2020. It had halted big projects in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Florida because of the swine flu. Other parts of the company's sports and live event business are humming again, landing splashy projects including a stadium for the Buffalo Bills. Conventions haven't followed suit

They're just another department of the local government and many people like them. We don't think that is the case.

Many in his line of work believe that individuals need to congregate in person and that the industry can rebound. He will have to convince risk-averse clients that pricey makeovers are the only way to get them to return. He concedes that it can be a challenge. People don't go to convention for fun Unless it is comic con.

He wasn't going to be a convention center superfan. A tall man with a beard, he was raised in a small city in Northern California. He graduated with a degree in architecture from California Poly State University. Populous was spun off from HOK's sports division and he was a part of it. Each of the 68,000 seats in Gillette Stadium, the new home of the New EnglandPatriots, was briefly tried out by Lockwood. He says you have to sit in it and make sure it's bolted in.

When it came to palaces where the likes of Tom Brady would throw spirals, it was less appealing than it was to do it for thousands of Zumba instructors. He says that convention centers are just as exciting as the Department of Motor Vehicles. We don't think that

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The American convention centers have gone through different phases. The first ones were huge exhibit halls. He said a box with loading docks. Developers added meeting rooms in the second phase. Ballrooms and food courts were added in the third. The golden age of convention centers was when they incorporated windows, outdoor plazas, and nooks for delegates to chat in while they're on their phones.

There is a reason for this evolution to sound less radical. The industry is conservative. Local hotel and rental car taxes are often used to fund high-dollar expansion proposals.

After four years at HOK, he left to work in the design of fancy houses. He returned to HOK in 2007, after being persuaded by Todd Voth to take on a bigger role. Voth wants you to be the lead designer. Voth and Lockwood encouraged them to embrace innovation.

Convention center architects like to use that card. The $1.9 billion Seattle Convention Center Summit Building, designed by LMN Architects in Seattle, will open next year.

Populous won design contests from California to Australia. He may have been behind in the competition to design the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion. The facility is an homage to Musk, with a system of underground tunnels and electric cars for conventioneers to use. Rob Svedberg is a principal at TVS Design in Atlanta, which led the project. He says it's been well received.

The Populous project was in danger when Covid appeared. One of the few people on the plane would try to keep them going. Major new projects in Los Angeles and New Orleans were put on hold. The company had layoffs in 2020. He said that they didn't have the work.

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A rendering of the interior of the new Morial Center in New Orleans.

Lockwood is trying to get his business back on track as conventioneers return to cities. One of the events he attends, put on in January by the Professional Convention Management Association at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas, is one of several similar meta events. The International Association of Convention Centres has a convention and a meeting professionals conference. In order to get trade association representatives to hold gatherings at their buildings, some of the current and prospective clients are staffing booths on the exhibit floor.

The theme of this year's convention is how great it is to be together again. The first morning, the association gives members a surprise performance by Paula Abdul, who plays her hits accompanied by a dance troupe and makes several costume changes. Holly Ransom is the morning's master of ceremonies.

The (Re) Brand U Lounge is where delegates are encouraged to take a high-intensity orangetheory fitness class, do chair yoga, improve their headshots, and polish their elevator pitches. It is possible for anyone who wants to scream into a paper bag to be able to do so. The convention are back.

The necessary precautions were taken. The conventioneers are masked, and no one is allowed in without proof of vaccine. Olean declared at the press conference that there was no safer place to be. Business travelers, college educated people are the type of attendees that we have at our conferences.

Light attendance is present. The number of people who showed up was less than half of the annual meeting. There is more tune in online. Ninety-six people who attend in person are positive for Covid.

The man is undeterred by the situation. He goes to the comedy club to see the director of the convention center host a happy hour. The $605 million expansion of the 7 million- square-foot center was canceled because of the pre-pandemic illness. In Vegas, Tester's people are pitching as best they can, but conferences are usually booked years in advance, and customers are leery with Covid still circulating. He says that nobody is ready to talk about it. After a number of fall cancellation that Tester attributes to the delta variant, existing bookings were at least holding steady through omicron. It would take at least another year to talk about restarting the expansion. The man is drinking a beer while listening to the rundown.

Adam Paulitsch took over the role of the convention group's lead designer when his boss was promoted last year. Two people sit at a table overlooking the Strip. The president of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is Michael Sawaya. People are ordering drinks. The wine list was requested by Sawaya.

He says there is a bottle of wine on the table.

Is this being billed to the convention center? Paulitsch makes fun of himself.

The cheapest wine on the menu is a California cabernet.

The food is first-rate: deep- fried duck confit, chicken wings, kimchi, and waffles. During the Pandemic, the Morial Center was one of the projects that was kept afloat. The company was hired by Sawaya to rethink the lobbies in the 3 million square foot building. Populous was asked by Sawaya to come up with a better idea for the future after the Pandemic hit. A grand staircase leading up to a rooftop ballroom was proposed by a group of people.

We were tossing out big ideas.

They can't do it in Las Vegas.

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An exterior view of the redesign for the Morial Center.

The next morning, I meet up with a friend. At the surrounding tables, other delegates stare at their phones or laptops, anticipating the day's schedule, featuring more motivational speakers and the chance to get down with DJ Warren Peace. People are at the convention. "What do you think?" Lockwood asked. It happens. There is an innate human understanding that something could happen. That is the reason I have to go.

One speaker talks about climate change while the other talks about a free app he created to help people with disabilities. There is a drum corps with flashing lights on their uniforms and instruments, as well as a group of people on Tester's center.

Paulitsch wants to give someone from Houston some information about the New Orleans project. They are trying to impress officials who are planning a potential expansion of Austin by showing them a Populous-designed space in town. Is there a happy hour afterwards? Paulitsch wants to know what's going on.

The person says no. There are lots of ways to drink.

He reported that the tour went well.

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A rendering of the BMO Centre’s exterior.

The general manager of the BMO Centre in the Canadian Rockies is the subject of a meeting that will take place in February. He has a glass of malbec in his hand as he waits for them in a bar. A server has a bottle of the same stuff. The table is covered with food. Paulitsch dug in and said that the tartare was great.

After two lean years, the expansion of the BMO Centre is going well. He says that they are seeing the construction and thinking.

It is cold and clear the next morning. There is a beautiful view of the peaks from the high-ceilinged hall. Newton sits in a highbacked leather chair and predicts that Covid variant will continue to roil the industry. He says it may take as long as 2030.

Did you say the year 2030. The man sounded startled when he asked. Future conventions could be similar to the e-sports business, with some people attending in person and many more watching online, according to him. He wants to know why we aren't having that discussion.

Better service should be offered by the industry. He brought seven of his top executives to the hotel for two days of workshops on how to care for their customers.

They stay for the morning session. An early gig toiling under a butler was undone by a weakness for coffee and liqueur. MacPherson says that his career ended due to that. The great guy always smiled.

The two men talked about the week ahead on the way back to calgary. They will spend most of it in Texas. Populous is in the running to be the designer for the convention center expansion. The company loses out.

Sawaya tells me that the American Association for Cancer Research will be in New Orleans for its yearly convention. He will allow face coverings to be required. Sawaya is willing to dye her hair blue and walk around the building. They must pay the bill. The Mcdonald's Worldwide Convention is being hosted by Tester. He says it is at 100% of pre- Covid levels. Bruno Mars plays tonight. Yesterday, they had pink.

A professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has been following the industry for years isn't sure if the good times will come back. The combined attendance at the nation's four largest centers, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Orlando, was already dipping before the swine flu epidemic. He thinks the industry will never recover.

Business hasn't bounced back much according to Lockwood. People are a little on edge because of the Pandemic. He has been trying to get student athletic facility proposals. He says he tries to look at the positives. I need to help somewhere if I can't work on these projects.

Business travel is up as people don't need to use a computer for meetings.